Six o’clock in the morning makes for easy driving throughout the region.

Not many people are stirring at this early hour, but the Propstra Aquatic Center bustles with activity, filled with 30 or so swimmers with state championship dreams helping wash away any sleepiness from their minds.

Columbia River High School Kara Noftsker
Columbia River’s Kara Noftsker looks to win a 2A state title in her senior season. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

One swimmer in particular stands out, her white cap emblazoned with “DELAWARE” in bright yellow capital letters and the Blue Hens logo distinguishing Kara Noftsker from her Columbia River teammates.

Noftsker has definite state championship aspirations, having finished second in both the 100- and 200-yard freestyles at last November’s WIAA 2A state meet in Federal Way. She admits that she’s never gotten quite used to waking up at the crack of dawn, but it’s the price she’s willing to pay to make her mark.

“I know I’ll get better going through all this,” said Noftsker, wearing her trademark smile. “And I just think that I’m going to have my friends there that have to go through the same hard sets that I do, so I’m not alone.”

The 16-year-old Columbia River High School senior has learned to manage her time so that she can hang out with her boyfriend, Colin Helt—they’ve been an item for four years, so he knows Kara needs to be home and asleep by 9:00 p.m. — and still maintain a 3.8 GPA.

“My life is kind of just swim and sleep,” Noftsker joked.

That’s especially true in the summer, when she adds in afternoon practices with the Vancouver Swim Club to prepare for the long-course season.

Columbia River High School Kara Noftsker
Kara Noftsker enjoys her early morning training sessions with her Columbia River teammates. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

Kara outlines her day—5:15 to 6:45 a.m. at Propstra with the Chieftains team, school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:05 p.m., then club practice from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m. How does she find the time to have a life?

“My dad (Will) made me really work hard on my time management, plan out my day every day,” she said. “I always get my homework done before swim practice, and then I hang out with (Colin) a little bit before I go to bed. I study for tests before bed or before school.”

Her father also introduced Kara to swimming back in second grade. She’d given soccer a shot but couldn’t abide getting kicked in the shins all the time, but when she’d tag along with her dad to Federal Way for his master’s swim meets. “I would see him with his medals and thought, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” she recalled.

“I wanted to have lots of medals just like my dad did.”

She brought home a medal haul from the Oregon Swimming long course championships in late July (Vancouver swims in the Oregon meet because of its proximity to Portland vs. traveling to Seattle for in-season meets).

Columbia River High School Kara Noftsker
Freestyle may be Kara Noftsker’s best event, but she is good enough in the backstroke to finish third in the 100- and 200-meter events at the Oregon Swimming championships in July. Photo credit: Rene Ferran


Noftsker placed fourth in the 50-meter freestyle, third in the 100- and 200-meter frees and 100 and 200 backstrokes, and sixth in the 100 butterfly—just missing out on the qualifying times for the USA Swimming Futures Championships in California.

Her goal next summer is to swim either at Futures or at Junior Nationals, but before then, there’s the matter of winning a high school state title (or two) and helping the Columbia River Chieftains improve upon their sixth-place finish in the team standings.

Columbia River High School Kara Noftsker
The Columbia River swim team (from left, Elizabeth Lujano, Kara Noftsker, Sydney Boyle, Athena Duus, Makena Wilcox, Madisyn Morin, and Keleigh Kelly) placed sixth at last year’s WIAA 2A state meet. Photo credit: Carole Sandison

Noftsker had qualified for state as a freshman and sophomore at the 3A level, but her sophomore state meet was hampered when she suffered severe leg cramps during the 200 free consolation final. “They just happen to me every once in a while after races, and it gets to the point where I can hardly walk,” she explained. “My mom (Stephanie) just says it’s an electrolyte imbalance, but we’re not sure of the exact cause. I tried stretching my legs afterward, but they stayed that way and it affected me in the 100 (she finished eighth in the final).”

Going into the 2A state meet last fall, having repeated as district champion in both of her individual events, she was ready for redemption and excited about her chances. “I was really hyped, and that’s why I did so good,” said Noftsker, who also swam on River’s fifth-place 200 medley relay and third-place 400 free relay.

“I was able to try a new level, go up against different competition than I’d been exposed to, and see how it went.”

Both girls who beat Noftsker in the finals—Krista Wilson of Ellensburg in the 200 and Eleanor Beers of North Kitsap in the 100—are back to defend their titles, so Noftsker knows winning a state title in her final year won’t be easy.

Columbia River High School Kara Noftsker
From left, Kara Noftsker, Elizabeth Lugano, Sydney Boyle, Sarah Giovanazzi, and Makena Wilcox share a light moment at last fall’s WIAA 2A state meet. Photo credit: Colin Helt

She’s also close to All-American status in both swims—her 100 free best of 52.77 seconds is less than 2 seconds from consideration, and her 200 free best of 1:54.64 is 4 seconds off—and she knows she needs to improve them if she wants to swim collegiately, which is a goal of hers.

“I want to get faster in the 100 and 200 free,” she said. “A couple of Division III schools in California and Pennsylvania have contacted me, and I visited Boise State this summer. That was a really good experience. It’s a school I could see myself going to.”

Her coach at Columbia River High School, Alyssa Manlow, swam collegiately herself, so she knows what it would take for Noftsker to continue her career next year.

“I think she could definitely swim Division I,” Manlow said. “It all depends on how far she wants to go with her swimming. She just needs to find a school where she’ll have room to grow. But Kara works incredibly hard in the water, always does what she needs to do, and has fun doing it.”

Indeed, Noftsker gladly puts up with her Benjamin Franklin routine, doing so with a smile on her face.

“I want to make sure everyone has fun,” Noftsker said, looking at her teammates as they head off to school. “I’ve just had a real positive experience being on a high school team, and I want to continue with that.”

Kara Noftsker’s Favorite Things

TV Show: Bachelor in Paradise
It’s just funny. Colin’s mom and I watch together, and we make bets on who dates who and who makes it to the end.

Movie: Moana
It takes place in Hawaii, and I like Hawaii. And it’s just a really cute movie.

Book: Dorothy Must Die
That’s probably a weird choice, but it’s a very interesting book.

Food: Thai
Chicken fried rice with fried eggs on top. That’s pretty good.

School subject: English
I’m decent at writing in general, and I like learning about the different types of literature in the world.

Cartoon character: Courage the Cowardly Dog
His name is just very ironic. I have really good memories of this show.

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